Strategies to reinforce the role of “blue” foods that are under water | aquaculture

an article ppublished in the magazine Nature at Wednesday reiterates the importance of so-called “blue foods” and explores the role they can play in a transition to healthier, fairer and more sustainable food systems, revealing four strategies that should be taken into account as policy objectives in several countries. In Portugal, say the scientists, “reduce the environmental footprint” and “safeguard fair food systems, safeguarding nutritional values”, are identified as the most relevant measures that must be reinforced.

The study, which has the support of the collective initiative blue Food Assessment, identifies four strategies to enhance the sustainable food chain that is found under water: “Ensuring that blue foods are a source of crucial nutrients”; “that healthy alternatives to meat be provided”; “an effort should be made to reduce the environmental footprint of food products”; and, finally, “that nutritional values, economies and fair livelihoods are safeguarded under the climate change”.

The nutritional and environmental advantages of “blue foods” (farmed or captured in freshwater and marine environments, including aquatic animals, plants and algae) tend to stay out of contemporary discussions about food systems and policies, concludes the team led by researchers from the University of Stockholm. In these debates, the representation of this food chain is reduced “to some types of fish in dietary recommendations and demand projections”.

In Portugal, the objective identified as the most relevant is to reduce the environmental footprint of aquatic food production, followed by the need to guarantee fair and dignified feeding systems, with attention to all stakeholders, from the small producer to the consumer, together with with measures that also safeguard the nutritional values ​​of the productions.

The objectives proposed in this study are not a concrete plan of action. These are general lines of behavior that governments and institutions must follow in order to achieve optimal functioning of “blue food systems”. These guidelines can include creating public incentives for research, dietary awareness projects and even economic policies to discourage the production of food with a large ecological footprint.

A Blue Food Assessment, an international initiative, counts with the collaboration of more than 100 scientists of several nationalities and, according to the site of the organization, seeks to “support policy makers in assessing opportunities, tradeoffs and adoption of solutions to build healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems”. blue foods’ are placed at the heart of food policy in coalition discussions”.

The contribution of these foods to human health, nutrition, jobs, culture and environmental impact vary between species and local, recognize the scientists, adding that these natural variations “are aggravated by social structures that contribute to an increase in inequality”. Thus, the benefits of “blue foods” are not the same in all countries.

Therefore, the study examines the relevance of each strategy for each country, adding details on the costs and benefits associated with these purposes.

Reduce the deficit of nutrients present in “blue foods”

Research from the University of Stockholm points to a relatively high nutritional deficit of vitamin B12 and omega-3 at a global level. “Blue foods” are rich in these nutrients and, if they are accessible and consumed in adequate amounts, they can be the solution to this problem.

To help combat the deficiency of these nutrients, aquatic food production must be intensified. However, warn the scientists, it is necessary that the increase in production be done in a sustainable way and that guarantees the nutritional value and low cost of food. Currently, some of these “blue foods” are more expensive than other animal proteins, especially in developing countries.

To increase aquatic production in a sustainable way and without losing nutritional qualities, the researchers suggest creating “public incentives to direct investment, research and development” to create, for example, nutritious feeds with a low ecological footprint.

A healthy alternative to red meat

In countries such as China, Argentina, Brazil and the United States and in Eastern Europe, a “harmful nutritional transition” is being observed where red meat consumption trends continue to rise, warns research from the University of Stockholm.

Bearing in mind that the consumption of red meat can lead to cardiovascular disease, it is It is important to promote the consumption of “blue foods” in these countries, which can be done, the researchers recommend, through dietary awareness programs or even economic policies to discourage the production of red meat.

The article warns, however, that “promoting a role for ‘blue foods’ in health is based on the assumption that they can replace some consumption of red meat”, which has not yet been well documented.

There are, however, some published data on the substitution of red meat for white meat, reads in the article. “The increase in consumption of poultry compared to beef over 60 years suggests that white meat and seafood can replace red meat.”

Decrease the environmental footprint of food consumption and production

Many production systems, of the very diverse “blue foods”, result in “lower environmental pressures”, compared to those of terrestrial animal production, adds the study. Thus, the partial replacement of ruminant meat is presented as a way to reduce the environmental footprint in food production.

Aquaculture systems, such as bivalves (mussels, oysters, scallops) and algae, which do not need food, have low greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse effect (GHG), nitrogen and phosphorus and require less freshwater and land resources. Therefore, the production of these organisms has a very low ecological footprint.

However, systems such as salmon, which need a feed consisting of wild fish, have a very high feed conversion rate, that is, they need a very large amount of other fish for their food. Therefore, the Stockholm University research team suggests looking for ways to improve aquaculture using feed, avoiding using other fish species as food. Such as, for example, feed based on seaweed, fishing by-products or insect meal.

What the researchers suggest is that “structures to support governance, infrastructure and financial access to new technologies and high-quality feed for small producers” be developed, as well as “better management of fisheries, the use of free energy of fossils and the switch to low-impact equipment”.

Livelihoods, economies, health and sustainability

Aquatic foods are, in many countries, a mainstay of food culture and economies and play a crucial role in nutrition and food security. Furthermore, these foods are one of the “most traded globally” basic essential goods. The article also adds that these foods represent a substantial portion of many countries’ export earnings, and that the livelihoods of 800 million people depend on this food system.

But while this food system guarantees jobs and nutritious food, the real profit, like export earnings, “flows overwhelmingly to industrial-scale companies that control global supply chains,” warn researchers. Inequalities are then observed throughout the food system, where small-scale actors are “undervalued and marginalized in the decision-making process, threatening their livelihoods and ability to change environmental conditions”, they add.

To reduce inequality in this food system, researchers suggest “financing, infrastructure and governance that give voice and rights to all actors”. Thus, argue the authors, the application of policies that focus on environmental impacts or economic gains must also always bear in mind the consequences that they may have on human well-being.

Text edited by Andrea Cunha Freitas

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